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'Gifted Hands': inspirational but incomplete

THE TV-MOVIE "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story" WHEN|WHERE Saturday at

8 p.m. on TNT

REASON TO WATCH "Gifted Hands" celebrates reading, art, classical music, inspiration, hard work and turning off the television.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "You're the best pediatric surgeon in the world," a colleague tells Ben Carson (Cuba Gooding Jr.).

But getting there was a struggle, as this inspirational, yet conventional, movie illustrates over and over.

In 1987, Carson prepares to operate on twins co-joined at the brain, and the movie goes into a long flashback.

As a child, Carson must overcome bad grades and bullies. And so he does, with help from his single mother, Sonya (Kimberly Elise), who faces tremendous challenges herself.

Screenwriter John Pielmeier based his poignant script on Carson's book. But the movie raises questions as it jumps through time: How did he overcome a violent outburst? How did he come to live in a spectacular home? Director Thomas Carter deftly guides his cast, especially the young actors who play Carson. Jaishon Fisher plays Carson as a child, and Gus Hoffman portrays him as a teen.

The early sequences are stirring because Elise and the young actors interact so forcefully. Mother not only knows best, she's the best thing in the movie.

Gooding settles into the role when Carson is studying at Yale University, and the movie loses some dramatic energy. Gooding gives a serious, disciplined performance as Carson ascends in his medical career.

BOTTOM LINE This is the perfect movie for a country challenged by its new president to do better. It's also fine fare for Black History Month.

GRADE A-

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